Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quien Es Macho? Carol Danvers Es Macho!

In fact, anyone making their way through Ms. Marvel #32 would have to accept that Carol Danvers es muchisima macho.

Two years ago I wrote a post about X-Factor #5, in which the character Siryn is held captive, beaten, and nearly tortured.

I concluded then that:

While it's clear that Peter A. David wants to subvert the sexist trope of the woman who needs a man to deliver her from a dangerous situation, does he succeed?

My answer: yes, just barely. (And I'd have major reservations if this storyline were dragged out into another issue.) Here's my thinking:

I understand that this is a comic book, and that a title gets boring fast if the heroine is constantly kicking people's asses, and never can get her own ass kicked by anyone. I also get that X-Factor is giving off a noirish vibe. Bogart, Robert Mitchum, and Alan Ladd were constantly getting their asses handed to them by minor gunsels and cretinous henchmen in the middle reels of their respective noir movies. And, although the "message" of noir is that the hero can never destroy the interconnected webs of corruption in which he's ensnared, the viewer is at the very least assured that by the final reel the hero will have administered compensatory beat-downs to any of the players who were stupid enough to have laid a hand on him. The comic works then, and doesn't offend, if we accept that Siryn is a noirish or Bogart-ian heroine. Final confirmation of this line of interpretation will come if David actually shows us how Siryn finds and "re-pays" her original assailant in future issues.

Rather than a weak-damsel story, Peter David wants us to read X-Factor #5 as if it were an episode in the comic-book version of the Saturday Night Live gameshow Quien Es Mas Macho? (Who is More Macho?) And I'm pleased to report that, in the match-up of Siryn vs. Dr. Leery, Siryn es mas macho. She proves herself to be, indeed, muy muy macho.

Ms. Marvel #32, is a flashback story, and pits a non-superpowered Carol Danvers, shot down over Afghanistan, against a sadist named Ghazi Rashid.

However, it presents the reader with an entirely different case, for two reasons. One is small, and the other is more crucial:

(1) Rather than a noir vibe, this comic deploys the “captured/tortured soldier/spy” trope that was recently played out in the first Daniel Craig Bond film, Syriana, Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane (1997), and countless other movies. And given the season, a serious McCain-Hanoi-Hilton vibe is clearly in play.

(2) More importantly, the creative team chose to actually depict the torture of Carol Danvers -- and it’s bad.

Nothing is left to the imagination, here. It’s either depicted, or described. Ghazi is shown preparing to pull out several of Carol’s fingernails, and we learn a few panels later that he has indeed done so; he applies electric shocks; and beats and tries to dehumanize her -- in all of the most difficult scenes, Carol is clothed only in her bra and panties.

And there is this: Carol’s ultimate means of escape is provided due to Ghazi’s ineptitude in wielding the massive sledgehammer which he deploys to shatter her (shackled) fore-arm.

(Since I continue to get referrals to my X-Factor post from people directed to it by their Google-image searches for “captured superheroines,” I’ve decided that this post will be text-only.)

At the end of the issue, Carol uses the damaged manacle on her shattered arm to kick Ghazi’s ass and escape -- she’s got a long journey home.

One more distinction between this comic and X-Factor #5: a prior issue of Ms. Marvel (rather inexplicably) showed Carol beginning to re-kick Ghazi’s ass. So we now see that in addition to the escape beat-down she administered to the bastard, there’s more retributive violence in store. (In this regard, Brian Reed, the book’s writer, does for Carol what Peter David has not, to my knowledge, done for Siryn in X-Factor.)

So where does all this leave me?

I’m disgruntled. Although I know that people are being mis-treated in ‘the real world’ as I type this, I don’t read comics to see how it’s being done.

My considered opinion is this:

If you are a writer and you have made the creative decision to subject a character in your story to torture, I would urge you to err on the side of discretion. Suggest things to me. Let my imagination provide details.

Although extended depictions of righteous ass-kicking and retributive, justified violence are OK with me, the same is just not true for torture.

I’ll close by noting that I wouldn’t want to actually read a comic book in which a thoroughly loathsome character -- someone like the rapist Dr. Light -- were treated in the way that Carol Danvers is treated by her captor in Ms. Marvel #32.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Compare + Contrast

Here again is Alex Ross’ wonderful cover for Batman #685:


Is this young woman, photographed at the San Diego Comic-Con, Ross’ model for Selina Kyle?​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


I think so, and I wonder if others agree with me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You Gotta Have Heart ...

Lame, reference, I know, but I couldn’t resist!


It looks like Selina Kyle’s heart is restored to her -- or she gets someone else’s heart, instead, or something ...

From the January solicits:

Written by Paul Dini
Art by Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs
Cover by Alex Ross
A “Faces of Evil” issue starring Catwoman! Continuing from this month’s DETECTIVE COMICS #852, Selina Kyle’s path of vengeance against Hush knows no bounds! After confronting the man responsible for nearly destroying her life, Selina’s wrath propels her into a downward spiral. With Tommy Elliot almost certain to suffer dire consequences, could Catwoman’s humanity be next to perish?
And be sure to check out part one of this story on page 77!
On sale January 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

Though I know that I’m jinxing things by saying so, I am very glad that Catwoman survives!

Thursday, October 16, 2008



I have a satisfied smile on my face after reading Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2.

Geoff Johns nicely brings together plot-lines from across the DCU -- factoids that I rather desultorily absorbed during the JSA/JLA “Lightning Saga” cross-over now seem relevant to me. Superboy-Prime is still annoying, but the fact that he’s channeled his petulance in order to gather and deploy a formidable anti-Legion of baddies makes him a much more credible menace.

I can’t profess to being a fan of the Legion -- I didn’t grow up reading the books, and my experience with the recent iteration of the team is limited to the plot-line involving Supergirl’s travel to the 31st century (following the One Year Later stunt). However, what I am most emphatically a fan of is the cosmic-level visual story-telling that George Peréz seems to produce instinctively now. I liked his work with Mark Waid on the Brave and the Bold, and I like what he’s doing here very much.

Reading this comic brought to mind experiences I’ve had while listening to music: the sheer pleasure of appreciating the work of a fine artist in their maturity. While you can see how they might be hewing to some formulaic parameters, there’s joy in seeing someone master the form -- even the elements that might seem a bit shop-worn.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bad News


Tom DeFalco has made public that the final issue of Spider-Girl will be #30.

(Newsarama picked up a posting made by DeFalco at the SG page at the Comic Boards on Sunday.)

DeFalco reports that the character will regularly appear in the Amazing Spider-Man Family book.

I can’t say that this was an unexpected announcement: the title’s numbers have been at the same problematically low level since the re-launch.

I’ve enjoyed this book over the years, and will be sorry to see it come to an end.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Supergirl #34

After several years of aimless meandering -- a problematic period marred by epically bad story-telling, idiotic plot developments, and some truly terrible characterization and art, this title appears to have righted itself.

Jamal Igle, an artist whose work I have followed since taking note of his assured penceling on Firestorm, is in fine form. Dynamic, well-wrought art makes a big difference -- there seems to be something always going on in Igle’s panels.

And Sterling Gates turns in a good story -- it’s not a take on earth-shattering, philosophic questions, or the crazy follow-up to Supergirl’s (stupid) promise to keep a young boy from dying. What’s on offer is just a competent, straight-ahead comic book story, delivered in three acts:

In the first, after Cat Grant writes an attack article on Supergirl in the Daily Planet, the public turns on the young Kryptonian. She’s seen as an irresponsible teen-ager unworthy of Superman’s legacy, and Kara takes the public’s disapproval to heart. Superman suggests that perhaps part of her problem is that she’s Supergirl 24 hours a day -- maybe a secret identity would help things? (This was the same advice that Supes offered to Wonder Woman at the end of 52 -- is this all he’s got?)

In the second act, Kara seeks advice on secret identities, visiting with the Teen Titans and Wonder Woman. Robin offers Conner Kent’s glasses to her -- a nice touch, and though a heavy-handed writer might have ruined the scene, it’s not over-played here.

Kara talks to Wonder Woman while they’re subduing a giant eagle that shoots flames out of it’s beak in a scene that acknowledges the inherent weirdness of the DC universe. (And deploys Diana’s invisible plane to good effect.) I appreciated that the writer didn’t see the need to stop and congratulate himself about how he had managed to bring together the strange and the mundane.

Finally, while licking her wounds in Smallville, Kara figures out what she’s going to do. Martha Kent engineers a meeting between Kara and Lana Lang -- it turns out the two young women are dealing with the same problem. They have given in to the tendency to hide from a world that seems to have rejected and wounded them. In the finest tradition -- one often on display in movies and comic books -- a single, meaningful conversation is enough to get both Lana and Kara to see the light. It’s on to Metropolis for these two!

Although it sounds like I’m being cynical, I’m not. I appreciated that this comic took aim at a single story and deployed Igle’s impressive artwork to very good effect. All of the parts of an enjoyable comic are here, and I don’t ask for all that much: a nice opening splash page, several decent fights, character development and motivation, all followed by a final splash image that delivers the hook for the next issue.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Astro City Character Special: Beautie

I was killing time in the comic store on graduation afternoon, and picked up this comic, several months after it initially went on sale.

Although I have never read any of the Astro City series, I really enjoyed this.

Beautie, a life-sized cyborg with super-strength, invulnerability, and the ability to fly, is a protector of humankind. (Thank goodness.) Although she is a fighting member of the Honor Guard, and is valued and highly-regarded by her team-mates, she unable to interact or connect with them in a way that’s satisfying to anyone involved.

Kurt Busiek creates a compelling story for the character in this single-issue comic book. It’s a well-executed quest narrative: like Frankenstein, Data, Pinocchio, and the doomed clones at the center of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go, Beautie is a near-human whose earnest search for her identity is actually a sign that she is already in possession of the humanity she craves.

Beautie poses a sequence of fundamental questions, asking: where did I come from? who made me? and why was I made?

In a final Memento-like touch, we learn that this is a quest that Beautie has actually initiated and completed more than once -- her creator’s programming actively frustrates her attempts to acquire and retain the answers that she is able to attain.

Although it’s not clear how many previous iterations of the search there have been, at the close of the story we’re offered hope that Beautie’s cycle might soon come to an end.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Attention, Fans of (Miss) Fury!

The Comics Journal #288 includes 30+ color pages by Tarpé Mills, presented by Trina Robbins. The overwhelming majority of the comics reprinted are wonderful Miss Fury strips.

The color pages are a revelation, adding depth to Mills' characterizations. I was rationing my reading of the George Herriman cartoons reprinted in the previous issue of the Journal, and plan to do the same with these.

My fervent hope is that Trina Robbins is working on a complete reprint of Miss Fury (+ color), or, better yet, a biography of Tarpe Mills.

I would stand in line during a 12-hour thunder storm to buy either of those items.

(Image swiped from

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanks, Gail Simone!

Although there's too much on my plate today to allow for a review of Gail Simone's nice first issue as writer on Wonder Woman, I wanted to comment on a particular panel from the book that made my day.

There's a lot going on in the comic, including the (re)introduction of a key character, but for my money, I found Diana's saying I know exactly who I am immensely satisfying.

Gail Simone made reference to this in her recent interview at Newsarama:
I can organically take the next step, a move I think is crucial to how she will be portrayed under my watch — my Diana knows who she is. She’s confident and at ease with herself. That’s not to say that she won’t misstep, but it won’t be out of doubt as to her self-worth or importance.
Simone has certainly delivered on that promise, and this important shift in Diana's characterization contributes to the sense that the book has been positively transformed.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Let's Focus on the Positive

Several comics related surprises this week:

(1) El Cazador, the adventure series about an early modern female pirate that I have rhapsodized about in the past, came out in a nicely produced trade paperback that I picked up at my comic store on Wednesday. Even though I have all of the individual issues in my possession, I bought the book anyway: the good ones that I like I buy in multiple formats.

I was totally unaware that the TPB of this series was even coming out, so talk about pleasant surprises! Best part of it all: the final page of the TPB contains a "To Be Continued" ribbon on it. I am hoping very much that the rest of this story, which was left unpublished due to the bankruptcy of CrossGen, will finally make it into print.

(2) I have been looking for issue #12 of Charles Burns' Black Hole for quite some time, and I finally acquired it.

Yes, I do own the hardcover book published by Pantheon, but I have been collecting the individual issues, too.

(3) Having heard good things about it, I purchased Nick Abadzis' book Laika (First Second Books), which is a graphic novelization of the life of the dog that the Soviets shot into earth orbit as a follow-up to their launch of Sputnik. Man, it is indeed a very fine book that I recommend to one and all.

(4) The best for last: JSA #10 has the Kingdom Come Superman informing our heroes that he has fought side by side with other versions of them.

It's a very nice touch to have Wildcat be the one to say: "Power Woman?"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Three Reactions

Spoilers follow in abundance.

Catwoman #72
To paraphrase Gabriel Garcia Marquez: never was the sundering of a mother-child bond more foretold.

Now that the character has been put through a soul-crushing, much-expected psychological trauma, can we all move on, now?

I'm going to pretend the whole "One Year Later" story-line never happened, and am using this as the image with which I move forward with the character:

The Brave and the Bold #7
A satisfying story teaming Wonder Woman and Power Girl, who join forces to save a Superman-in-distress. Like Starsky and Hutch, Martin and Lewis, and Abbot and Costello: two great characters that go great together.

My favorite line in the entire comic is Power Girl's "No" answer to Wonder Woman's exasperated question.

The Death of the New Gods #1
Upon discovering the body of his beloved, Mr. Miracle (understandably) begins to make use of the Anti-Life Equation, and then stops himself because, he realizes, Barda would not have wanted him to.

Scott, although you've pretty much been an exemplary husband up 'til now, you must realize that you can't really know what what Barda would have wanted unless you specifically asked.

I'm hoping, of course, that the impending changes to the DC universe fix this ... someway, somehow ... when the dust clears.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Cooke's Power Girl

Dirk Deppey originally posted this cover to the upcoming Comics Journal #285 at his ¡Journalista! blog several weeks ago, and although Darwyn Cooke's magnificent drawing has been widely disseminated 'round the web, I wanted to post and briefly comment upon it here.

Although Cooke references the Power Girl's breasts, I think it's wonderful that he does so without actually depicting her characteristic "cleavage window." In fact, her mirror pretty much obscures her chest, something which enables the artist to make her eyes a focal point of the image.

Cooke's deployment of a mirror brought to mind two paintings by Velasquez. In "Venus at her Mirror" (1649-51), the painter reveals Venus' face through its reflection in a mirror; we're not able to see the godess' features directly "from life." Similarly, in Cooke's drawing the mirror obscures one of the subject's features, rather than reflect or reveal it to the viewer.

However, I think the trick that Velasquez pulls in "Las Meninas" (1656-7) is closer to the spirit of what Cooke does in his drawing.

Like PG's hand-held, the mirror on the wall at the center of the painting reflects an image back at the viewer. In Velasquez's case, we can actually see what's in the mirror: it's the king and queen of Spain.

In a metaphorical sense, though, the mirror actually depicts whoever stands to take a look at the tableau in the painting: if we entered that room, we would be reflected in the mirror. "Las Meninas" is about lines of perspective, points of view, and our ability and desire to look.

Cooke's drawing reveals him to be interested in the same things.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Summer of Supergirl, II

The creative team of Tony Bedard and Renato Guedes have pulled off a feat nothing short of miraculous, setting Supergirl on a firm footing after a year or more of meandering, confusing, or just plain bad comics.

More to their credit, the two have done so while dealing with the restrictions imposed upon them by two lumbering company-wide crossovers, Amazon Attack! and Countdown.

In Supergirl #20, we're presented with a character who is young and flawed, but also a whole lot more: she's brave, and willing to take risks to make up for her mistakes. But more than anything, Guedes' fabulous art gets across the important fact that Supergirl is strong.

In contrast to recent depictions of her, Guedes draws a Supergirl whose best feature is not that she's a blond, or that she's a babe, or that she possesses a slim waist or impossibly spindly legs. Through care in pencilling the character, Guedes brings home the wonderful fact that what's crucial about her is that Supergirl is incredibly, self-confidently, unapologetically strong.

Supergirl #20 deals with the aftermath of the character's monumentally stupid decision to team up with Wonder Girl, capture the President on Air Force One, and deliver him to the Amazon Queen so that the two might then negotiate an end to the war.

Talk about a straightjacket of a plot element! The comic's cover says it all.

Supergirl's tears immediately brought to mind the fateful cover to Birds of Prey #42, the issue in which Power Girl, already in the midst of a spiral of physical de-powerment, was emotionally crippled as well.

As I've said, I needn't have worried. The writer takes the elements carrying over from Amazons Attack! and turns them into nice opportunities to develop the character. Supergirl #20 provides a Kara-centered narrative growing out of the aftermath of the downing of Air Force One. Bedard introduces a character, the husband of a woman who served with the President on Air Force One, to foreground the human ramifications of Kara's blunder. Rather than whine, act like the victim, or try to pass the buck, Supergirl gets it.

In Supergirl #21, Bedard continues the reclamation project, bringing home Kara's connections to the Kents as surrogate grand-parents to whom she turns for support following her bad decision.

And although I was both uninterested in and horrified by Supergirl's early appearances in the first arc of the Waid/Perez Brave and the Bold, things did improve, and by its close Kara actually makes the central contribution to the heroes' efforts to foil the evil scheme set into motion by the Lords of Luck.

With a new creative team poised to take over on Supergirl, I recognize that things could go south again pretty quickly. However, taking account of all of the recent developments, one could reasonably argue that the summer of 2007 was a good one for fans of Kara Zor-El.

Miss Fury!


This TPB (Pure Imagination Publishing, 2007) is one of my most prized possessions.

Tarpe Mills is my hero.

Thanks, Trina Robbins!


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